You can eat it, fill your car’s gas tank with it or feed it to ol’ Bessie.
You can freeze it, can it or gnaw it right off the cob. You may even want to cook with it.
It is, of course, corn – the foundation of both American agriculture and the FFA emblem, symbolizing unity as a crop grown in all 50 states.
It’s one of the most recognizable commodities in the world, and it’s been around forever, it seems. Ancient Mayans cultivated it long before it spread to the Americas sometime between 1700 and 1240 B.C. Since then, America has become the world’s largest producer, supplying almost half of all the corn on Earth.
This year alone, American farmers planted 92.3 million acres with Corn Belt states accounting for much of that. In fact, four states – Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois – grow about half of all the corn in the U.S. while parts of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin also contribute heavily.
So prevalent is this crop that when harvest rolls around this fall, U.S. farmers are projected to bring in a record 13.5 billion bushels. Much of that – at least 58 percent – is dent corn or “field corn,” the kind grown primarily for livestock and poultry feed. It also has a wide array of industrial uses, from ethanol to toothpaste.
Four states – Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois – grow about half of all the corn in the U.S.
The U.S. also grows almost all of the world’s popcorn, but the corn Americans eat is sweet corn, named so because it contains more sugar than other types of corn. About 12 percent ends up in foods that are either consumed directly (such as corn chips or right off the cob) or indirectly (such as corn syrup or corn oil).
With so much corn around, it would seem that it’s an easy crop to grow – it isn’t. Farmers have a small window of time in which they must plant their corn, and the weather seldom cooperates. While the introduction of hybrid varieties have enabled farmers to have an earlier planting season, soil conditions and temperature still must be just right.
Even how deep to plant the seed is of utmost importance. It must be deep enough to germinate where the water is in the soil (too deep and it won’t grow).
Research has improved the odds in favor of the farmer as have advances in seed and equipment technology. But the farmer still must make difficult decisions on matters such as crop rotation to avoid nutrient depletion of the soil, row spacing, tillage, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
No doubt about it – growing corn is a tough job.
President Dwight Eisenhower said as much soon after retiring to a working farm at the close of his presidency.
“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field,” he said.
Even so, corn is a crop that is grown with pride, the kind of pride found on every blue corduroy jacket.
– Darryal Ray